Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696), a French philosopher and moralist, once said, “The rarest things in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds and pearls.”
When I first read this quote I understood the rarity of having a spirit of discernment but I must admit I was a bit confused that this philosopher would describe pearls as being one of the “rarest things in the world.” How can that be?
We see them displayed on jewelry counters throughout department stores sitting right out in the open for anyone to try on. Just about anywhere you go, women accessorize with pearls, whether it is a wedding, funeral, bridal or baby shower, or simply dressing up for a day at the office. As Jackie Kennedy remarked about June’s traditional birthstone, “Pearls are always appropriate.”
After doing a bit of research on pearls, I found it is the natural pearls that grow on their own in the wild without the help of being farmed that are extremely rare. Only one in about 10,000 wild oysters will produce a pearl. Of those, only a very small number will have a desirable size, shape, and color for the jewelry industry.
The finest quality of natural pearls are rare and highly valued as gemstones. Some natural pearls have been valued as high as $300,000 for a single pearl! Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters are the majority of what is sold today and come from China.
The Formation of a Pearl
A pearl is formed when a microscopic intruder or parasite enters a mollusk with a hinged shell and settles between the shell and the mantle, the protective layer that covers the mollusk’s organs to keep it alive. The mollusk becomes irritated by this potentially threatening intruder and forms a pearl sac around it as a defense mechanism.
The sac is made of secreted nacre, a beautiful iridescent substance also called mother of pearl. After repeating this secretion process several times, a pearl is finally formed which can take anywhere between six months and four years. Ideally, the pearl will be perfectly round and smooth (most valuable), but the final outcome can have a variety of shapes.
I have found a few pearl beauties during my treasure hunts for high quality vintage costume jewelry that I have repurposed into rings. Here is one of them from the 1950s that was marked Miriam Haskell, a successful jewelry designer known for the intricate detail, quality, and workmanship of her handmade jewelry. She traveled all over the world to find materials. The pearls she used were from Japan:
A Spirit of Discernment
Natural pearls are rare, but as Jean de La Bruyère expressed, a spirit of discernment is the rarest. Discernment is the ability to clearly comprehend and distinguish between that which is right or wrong, truth or error. It is the ability to see what is not evident to the average mind.
More than a thousand years earlier, King Solomon also knew how rare and valuable it was to have a spirit of discernment when he made his request to God:
“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” I Kings 3: 7-14
King Solomon was humble and knew about his own deficiency in being able to discern right from wrong. He asked the Lord specifically for help in that area and God was pleased with his request, giving him exactly what he asked for and then so much more as an added blessing.
The Apostle Paul wrote about how it is the responsibility of every follower of Christ to be spiritually discerning:
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
Spiritual discernment comes from knowing Jesus Christ in a real and personal way. Discernment is developed by becoming proficient in the Word of God by regularly studying Scripture. These are God’s words written to us to teach us how to distinguish truth from error. The more we read it, the more we become acquainted with it, reinforcing the truth. And the more intimately we know Christ who is Truth, the easier it will be to recognize when something is inaccurate or untrue.
This reminds me of some of the “signed” costume jewelry that I have seen for sale. There are numerous reproductions of vintage pieces of jewelry made by some of the most talented designers. They even include the stamped signature!
If you have not studied the designer and the way they skillfully made their jewelry, it can be difficult to discern between what is authentic and what is a fake. The more I study the designer and the materials they used for their jewelry, the easier it is for me to recognize the real deal.
When you desire to know the truth, you are desiring a life free from compromise that would pollute your character. You want to live a life of purity and integrity reflecting the real deal, Jesus Christ.
Another way spiritual discernment is developed is through the regular practice of identifying good from evil. We learn through experience what is pleasing to God, distinguishing His voice over the world’s voice of what is right and wrong.
Our senses become improved over time. What is good, true, and right tastes sweet to us and what is evil, false, and wrong has a very bitter taste. This protects us from the hurt and pain that comes from making decisions that do not glorify God and cause us to sin.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:14
The closer our relationship to God, the more we will want to please Him by obeying Him and doing what is right. Our Creator deeply desires to have a close relationship with us and freely gives us a spirit of discernment anytime we ask. When we make decisions that honor Him, we end up prospering with abundant blessing!
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3
The next time you see someone wearing pearls, remember the way they are formed. Imagine yourself as a pearl sitting inside of a protective, hinged mollusk.
The numerous translucent layers of nacre that make up the pearl as it is being formed are like the layers of discernment you receive as you become closer in your relationship with Christ. Over time, these layers create a beautiful, iridescent luster. The more layers, the finer the luster allowing for a greater reflection of light in the pearl.
When you have a spirit of discernment, you brilliantly reflect Christ in your life as you make decisions that please and honor Him. And that is by far, more precious than the rarest of natural pearls.
Sparkler #1: Prayer
Communicate with God by praising Him for who He is, confessing your sin, thanking Him for His many blessings, and making your requests known to Him. The closer your relationship, the easier it will be to recognize His voice and know how to make decisions that please Him.
Sparkler #2: Action
Take time each day to read God’s Word which is His way of communicating with you. His principles will be etched on your heart and bonded to your mind to help you make decisions with a spirit of discernment as you come to know Him more intimately.
Sparkler #3: Challenge
What major decision are you being faced with right now? Ask God for a spirit of discernment so your decision does not contradict the truths found in His Word. When you make decisions that honor Him, you will radiantly shine, reflecting Christ in all you do.
*Pearl oyster – photo credit: Manfred Heyde
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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